Britain keen to expand ties with Iran based on JCPOA: British envoy

London, Aug 29, IRNA - Two years after reopening the British embassy in Tehran, ‘Nicolas Hopton,’ the British Ambassador to Tehran said that the British government is willing to expand relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based on the historic nuclear deal.

The nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 'was an important step in allowing us to make this renewed engagement with Iran,' Hopton said in an exclusive interview with IRNA on Monday.

He added, 'In that time we have been re-establishing the embassy here with all its activities and working increasingly closely with the Iranian government and business sector to develop the relations between the two countries.'

Citing 'progress' in bilateral relationship during the last 2 years, the British ambassador said, 'I am hopeful we will continue to see progress, right across the board and particularly in the business relations between our two countries.'

He also added, 'The British government congratulated President Rouhani on his re-election and sent a strong delegation led by the minister for Middle East and north Africa Alistair Burt to represent the UK at the ceremony.'

Following is the full text interview between the British Ambassador in Tehran and IRNA correspondent Hadi Naderi:

Q. How do you assess the current bilateral relationship between Iran and Britain?
A. We reopened the British Embassy in Tehran in August 2015, that’s almost exactly two years ago, since then we’ve made a lot of progress. Clearly the agreement of JCPOA, the BARJAM was an important step in allowing us to make this renewed engagement with Iran and in that time we have been obviously re-establishing the embassy here with all its activities and working increasingly closely with the Iranian government and business sector to develop the relations between the two countries.
So far I would assess the progress as positive, we are moving in the right direction.
There are lots of issues we have to deal with together to move forward, it's always challenging when you are re-establishing a relationship after a gap of 4 years when the embassy was closed, but the direction of travel is going in the right direction.

Q. So would you say that the trend is satisfactory?
A. Yes, I think the trend is satisfactory and I am hopeful that we will continue to see progress, right across the board and particularly in the business relations between our two countries.

Q. How do you foresee the prospect of bilateral relationship between the two countries in the new government of President Rouhani’s?
A. The British government congratulated President Rouhani on his re-election and we sent a strong delegation led by the minister for Middle East and north Africa Alistair Burt to represent the UK at those ceremonies.

I think that was indicative of the positive spirit of engagement that the British government intends to pursue with Iran and how things will now develop depends very much on variety of factors; But the political will is there from the UK based on the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] which we are fully committed to and we hope to build the relationship with the Iranian government over the coming months and years.

Q. Britain, comparing to France, Germany and other European countries has left behind in its trade relationship with Iran. Why is there a slow trend and limited investments from British companies?
A. I think you’ve got to remember that the British government didn’t have an embassy here for 4 years and some of our European partners were here, during that time even though Iran was obviously under sanction and trade was very difficult in most areas.

I think we have made a lot of progress on the trade front in 2 years we have been back. The trade figures reflect that they are increasing at a very steep trajectory and I think it could be steeper. You are absolutely right it isn’t moving as fast as we would like to see.

I think the British companies are engaging particularly the bigger ones and I think some deals is starting to happen and these would be a very positive thing for both Iran and for the UK.

Q. In your previous interview, you mentioned that you have new ideas in mind to expand trade relations, could you explore that for us.
A. Of course as the British Ambassador part of my job is to find ways to promote relations and trade between the UK and Iran by visiting the regions within Iran and reintroducing the UK to those authorities and business communities and also looking for opportunities where British businesses can engage.
So for instance last week I travelled in Gilan and East Azarbaijan and visited the free trade zone of Bandar Anzali as well. I was very encouraged by the messages I received from the governor and the authorities and the business community and in all those places.

I think there is a market and appetite for more British engagement and I hope in the month and years to come we will see British businesses playing a bigger role in those areas.

Q. Iranians have a pessimistic view towards Britain, based on historical ground. Do you have any plan to reduce this perception and the pessimistic view of the Iranians towards Britain?
A. UK and Iran have a long history together and there have been some difficult moments and some very positive moments as well. Like in any relationship there are ups and downs.

My role at the moment is essentially to focus on forwards. I think one of the ways we can do that is by working together more in the business commercial sector and looking for opportunities in both directions to develop our trade and partnership commercially and there are other things we should be discussing in due course across the board in our relationship.

But at the moment the focus is to show the positives that the UK can bring to Iran and to demonstrate this in both directions.

Q. So would you acknowledge that increasing trade relations and investment between the two countries can change the pessimistic perception?
A. My main objective is to build relationships to increase understanding between Tehran and London so that we can find more common ground including on regional issues where at the moment we have differences in our policy and approaches which does cause problems.

So I am hopeful that as we build our relationship we could make progress in all these areas.

Q. As the British ambassador in Tehran how do you assess the role of Iran in fighting terrorism, creating stability and security in the region?
A. It is certainly true that Iran and the UK have a shared experience of terrorism and the need to combat it, particularly the IS (Daesh) and the British government sent a message of sympathy and solidarity to the Iranian people at the time of the terrorist attacks here a couple of months ago.

We also have had a very difficult summer in the United Kingdom with terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. So there is a shared understanding of the challenge and the need to do more to combat terrorism.

Elsewhere in regional policy, clearly in Syria we do not share the same assessment of the Syrian regime and what needs to be done.

We have observations by the role that Iran plays in other regional areas of tension such as in Yemen where I think a political settlement is essential in order for the humanitarian crisis to be improved for the good of the Yemeni people. But I hope that through increased dialogue and through increased engagement between the British and the Iranian authorities we can find more understanding and build progress towards peaceful settlement in all these areas.

Q. Do you think Britain and Iran could cooperate in resolving regional crisis?
A. I hope that we can find ways of understanding each other’s positions better. That is why more engagement and dialogue between our governments will help narrow the gaps between our positions and create greater understanding.

Q. On another point, US is using hostile rhetoric against Iran and the nuclear deal. Whilst Britain is a party to JCPOA, is she (Britain) ready to send a diplomatic signal to Washington in support of JCPOA?
A. I cannot speak for the government of the United States of America, the British government however is fully committed to the JCPOA and, to its successful implementation.

We are working hard with all our partners and with Iran to make a success of JCPOA and we will continue to engage all our partners to that end.

Q. In post JCPOA, Banking, has been an obstacle in trade relationship with Iran. What steps has the British embassy taken to facilitate and resolve this matter?
A. Building up of commercial links between Iran and the international economy is an essential part of making the JCPOA work, both for the people of Iran and to create greater stability within the region and to build confidence in the relationship between Iran and its international partners including UK.

Banking and financial services are clearly required in order to allow business to operate effectively. Although the decisions of course on to whether to offer financial services depend on private institutions and their commercial decisions, British government and other governments do not have a great deal of influence over those decisions.

At the same time my government does recognize the need to make progress and to build confidence in institutions and banks dealing with financial services to facilitate the success of JCPOA.

So we are talking to banks and other partners in that sector to try and encourage them to engage more with Iran in doing business.

Q. One of the challenging issues for many Iranian is to obtain UK visa, and there are many complains about this. Do you acknowledge that this is a problem? Give us your view on this?
A. When the British embassy was closed for 4 years until August 2015 we obviously didn’t operated visa service inside Iran for Iranians. Iranians could get visas by going to other regional centers such as Dubai or Istanbul to get their visas for UK

In January and February 2016 we reopened the visa application centre offering 150 appointments a week for Iranians to obtain visas for the UK. That’s a very small figure comparing to what we were doing before the closure of the embassy in 2011, however in order to build on this service and eventually achieve a full visa service again there does need to be cooperation in both direction.

But I am confident that over time we will be able to gradually increase the number of visas we offer in Tehran which will help build the relationship between the two countries.

Q. Tell us about Brexit and how it will affect future bilateral relationship with Iran?
A. I think Iran is one of those countries where actually the UK’s position and its relationship with the European Union will not change things significantly.

We work very closely with our European partners particularly those who are involved in negotiating the JCPOA, that will continue and I think trading relation with Iran will not be greatly affected by Brexit either.

I think that the trajectory of the relationship between Iran and the UK is essentially a bilateral one rather than a multilateral context and that will continue to be the case whatever the relationship of United Kingdom with the European Union will be.

Q. Britain is traditional ally of Europe and a strategic partner to the US. In dealing with Iran and JCPOA, will your government follow Europe (who wants to uphold JCPOA) or the US?
A. United Kingdom is a sovereign country, we make our own decisions, we work with partners wherever possible but essentially at the end of the day the British government takes decisions for the UK independently as a sovereign nation. That will remain the case and I said already that the UK is fully committed to the JCPOA and making it a success and doing everything possible so that its implementation works to the benefit of all parties.

Q. If US decided to withdraw from JCPOA, what would be your government’s reaction? Will you support any military action against Iran?
A. As I said already, the UK is fully committed to the JCPOA and its implementation and that is our position and we are working as hard as we can to make the JCPOA great success for the benefit of all parties.

Q. We had a fruitful delegation from the UK who came to attend for Dr. Rouhani’s inauguration ceremony? What is your government’s view point on Dr. Rouhani’s second presidential term?
A. British government congratulated Dr. Rouhani on his re-election as the president of Iran and the size and the level of representation of our delegation made a positive impact on the Iranian authorities. It demonstrated our commitment to working with Iran to move the relationship between us forward and to make a success of the JCPOA and its implementation.

Q. UK, is a traditional ally of Bahrain. As you are aware, majority of the population in Bahrain are Shia but the Al-Khalifa government is violating human right against Shia, why does your government that upholds human right values, support this government?
A. United Kingdom works very closely with our friends and partners in the [Persian] Gulf and is engaged constantly in our relationships with them across the board.

I think separately we want to develop our relationship with Iran to improve the understanding and dialogue between our two countries and to move forward on a range of regional issues in order to achieve peace and stability in the region.

Q. In Yemen, there is 2 years of war and bloodshed. Many civilians have been killed, hospitals and schools have been destroyed as a result of the war.
There are reports that Saudi Arabia is changing its strategy against Yemen and want to stop the bombardments, tell us your government opinion?
A. The British government supports peaceful political transition in Yemen, that has been consistently our position since the problems erupted in 2011. We want to do that under UN umbrella and clearly the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) states have an important role to play and we have been working closely with them to achieve a peaceful and political approach.

I was encouraged with the UN secretary general's special envoy who was here in the last few days having consultations with the Iranian government. The government of Iran, I think, does have an important role to play in trying to stabilize the situation and to influence their partners in a positive direction towards a peaceful political engagement and transitional solution.

Interview by: Hadi Naderi
Editor: Fatemeh M. Safaee
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